Should the 49ers Pursue Edge Defender Trey Flowers in Free Agency?

Mar 11, 2019 at 8:13 AM0


The 49ers need to improve their defense by increasing production from the edge rushers. Free agency officially opens on Wednesday, and it offers the team an opportunity to get better on the edge before the start of the NFL draft. While a lot of attention has been paid to the edge talent in the draft, the 49ers only project to have six selections in this draft and they will need to add more than one edge rusher to make the position one of strength. While the team could still double up on edge rushers in the draft, there are some interesting veteran options that could be available in free agency. Last Friday, we looked at Za'Darius Smith, a productive DE/OLB from Baltimore, and analyzed how well he could complement the 49ers roster. You can view that article here. Today, we are going to look at what another prospective free agent edge rusher has shown in his first four years in the league.

Trey Flowers is likely to be the big name among edge rushers on the free agent market. He is young and productive, and he has shown up well in the playoffs, having won two championships with the New England Patriots. 49ers general manager John Lynch went on record emphasizing the importance of power out on the edge. Trey Flowers might be the most powerful edge player who will hit the market in 2019. Unfortunately, power might be the only special part of his game, as Flowers is an average athlete with little acceleration and bend. With the coaching he received under Bill Belichick, and by taking advantage of Flowers' football intelligence and instincts, Flowers has used his one elite trait (play strength) to develop into a productive and disruptive player.

RUN DEFENSE

Flowers is a beast on the line of scrimmage. He is simply difficult to move at the point of attack without a double team. Whether he aligns against tight ends, tackles, or guards, Flowers establishes inside hand position and knocks his blocker backwards. He is an effective two gap run defender, which allows the linebacker behind him to play to the football without being tethered to a specific gap. Having a versatile two gap defender allows some flexibility to the scheme, allowing the defensive coordinator to employ more creativity. On the edge, Flowers transitions from his two-handed strike to a single long arm, taking advantage of his 34+ inch arms to out-leverage his blocker and hold his gap effortlessly. This allows him to peek into the backfield and shed his block once the running back attacks a gap. While he is neither an explosive nor textbook tackler, Flowers does a pretty good job of wrapping up the ball carrier and wrestling him to the ground.

PASS RUSH

Flowers can be disruptive rushing inside or out, but his power is best displayed coming off the edge. The wider alignment the 49ers propose to employ in 2019 would allow him to build up some speed before contact, allowing him to convert speed to power as he uses his customary two-handed bull rush to drive opposing offensive tackles into the quarterback. While Flowers is not particularly agile, he possesses the balance and core strength to twist his hips and shoulders while bull rushing, which forces offensive tackles to continually fight to maintain their balance. Forcing the tackle to concentrate on balance allows Flowers to continue his momentum to the quarterback. As the 2018 season progressed, Flowers did a better and better job of using his powerful arms to disengage from blockers once he had pushed them far enough into the pocket to force the quarterback off of his spot, employing forklift, hump, and chop moves to get free.

Flowers has displayed no ability to get around the edge as a rusher. He lacks the flexibility and acceleration to bend around the edge and win with a speed rush, and his powerful arms are rarely employed with enough violence to the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle to soften the edge to win on the outside with power. Flowers is truly a one-trick pony as a pass rusher, but that one trick he has (bull rush) is consistently effective. While he doesn't project to ever be the type of player who can dip and rip around the edge with speed, he has demonstrated that he can simultaneously collapse and contain the pocket with his bull rush.

VALUE TO THE 49ERS

"Value" is a tough word here. As the rare edge rusher to hit free agency with consistent production (21 sacks in the last three seasons) and youth, Flowers is a safe bet at a premier position, indicating that he will likely sign a huge deal this week. A seven sack per year pass rusher who sets a dominant edge against the run is a perfect fit in the 49ers defense. The price tag he could demand as a 25-year-old could be more than the 49ers would be willing to pay for a player whose production has been steady, but unlikely to ever approach the top tier of NFL rushers. If the 49ers can convince themselves that he is worth the money, Flowers could fit well with the 49ers and get them one piece closer to a complete defense.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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